‘One strike and you’re out’ warning to FACT as they’re put on probation in all future contracts with Cambridgeshire County Council

FACT manager Jo Philpott

FACT manager Jo Philpott - Credit: Archant

A ‘one strike and you’re out’ policy has been placed on community transport provider FACT to allow them to continue to run contracts on behalf of Cambridgeshire County Council.

The measure – designed to ensure full compliance with an enhanced regulatory regime – is part of a package of 19 reforms put in place by the county council following the £170,000 PKF report into their management and operations.

County council chief executive Gillian Beasley said: “We have been very clear with FACT/HACT and ESACT that there are a number of significant management and process actions they must take in order to be considered ‘fit and proper’ to do business with.

“The council’s internal auditor has confirmed enough progress has been made by FACT/HACT and ESACT on these actions to confirm the award of 16 home to school transport contracts.

“There are a further five local bus services also for which they were the successful bidders but whose award has been held pending the audit and accounts committee’s consideration of the audit report, and the response from the community transport operators.

“However each contract will be awarded with a ‘side letter’ – specifying continued actions the organisations must deliver by a specific time without which the contracts will be immediately terminated.

“This means that from a total available council budget for public transport of £16.6m, FACT/HACT and ESACT will have been awarded contracts representing just over 4 per cent of the total budget and for some of which they were the only bidder.”

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The PKF report, which supported many of the claims made by this newspaper over the past six years, has already led to manager Jo Philpott forced out just three days after the council audit and accounts committee had debated the findings.

Taxi drivers’ spokesman Dave Humphrey – who led the campaign to get issues with the community transport provider resolved – said: “One of the main issues raised back in 2012 was the possible miss-use of public and private charitable funds, now confirmed.

“I feel the public are entitled to ask the question, if, from the outside, a bunch of taxi drivers was capable of correctly identifying abuse of the public purse, how is it possible senior councillors on the inside, fully experienced in procedure could not recognise any of this?”

Mrs Beasley and council leader Steve Count met a delegation of taxi and coach drivers on Tuesday to update them on changes taking place.

Mrs Beasley said: “We know that the main concern of the taxi drivers’ association was an underlying unfairness in the award of contracts and grants – and while we can’t turn the clock back, we have made significant progress to put this right for the future.

“This includes making improvements to the county council’s own policies and procedures for awarding grants and contracts to outside bodies, and a schedule for the repayment of public funds from community transport operators FACT/HACT and ESACT. “

Mr Humphrey remains critical of what he describes as the “the silence still from the FACT and ESACT board”.

He said: “Surely, if those ultimately responsible want the public’s confidence in the future at the very least they need to demonstrate they hold the humility and maturity to apologise.

“How can a continued display of the same arrogant contempt that allowed such abuse of the public purse in the first place, be expected to fill the public with trust into the future?”

He said: “Many taxi and coach company owners are extremely upset that the council is not legally able to undo the unlawfully gained commercial advantage FACT has accrued through the abuse of public purse.”

Mrs Beasley said during the course of Tuesday’s meeting “we offered our personal apologies” to the taxi and coach drivers.

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